Friday, 26 July 2013

The Falkland Islanders: People or Population?

Falkland Islands

"The people who live on the Falkland Islands do not constitute a people. They are British subjects who happen to live on the Falkland Islands".
- Richard Gott

Richard Gott is a British journalist, historian and a former Latin America correspondent known for his radical politics. He is also a strong supporter of Argentina’s claim to the Falkland’s and believes the Falkland islander’s views and thoughts are “completely and absolutely irrelevant”. This is because he thinks they are just an ordinary British population and not a people of any difference. This is also a primary claim of Argentina too and has escalated since the 2013 Falkland Islands Sovereignty Referendum.

This seemingly trivial distinction between population and people is of crucial importance as the Charter of the United Nations upholds the right of self-determination for all peoples. By trying to deny the Islanders their status as a distinct people or even sizeable population worthy of self-determination, Argentina tries to bypass principles of international law intended to protect small nations from the aggression of larger nations.

First of all nowhere in the principles of self-determination does it set a minimum population size to qualify for self-determination. In terms of sheer justice and law the right to self-determination is paramount. For that very reason the International Court of Justice has already ruled out the possibility of exceptions, as the point of self-determination is to protect small nations against aggressive larger ones, if nations get excluded because of size then the very principle is being destroyed.

The islanders gained full British citizenship with the British Nationality (Falkland Islands) Act 1983, after the Falklands War but it does not matter how the UK government (nor the Argentine government) identifies them. The important reality is that the Falkland Islanders absolutely DO constitute a people as they ultimately have a unique culture different from that of other peoples of British descent and they even self-identify themselves as a distinct people.

Most of the Islanders do not refer to the UK as "home" most look on it as the old country. It may have been where many ancestors came from, but its not home to them. They may go on holidays to the UK but the idea of living there doesn't really enter their thinking - after a week or two they want to get back to their own country.

Political status
They are self-governing and self-sufficient with their own locally elected government that makes all internal policy decisions about the Islands. As with other British overseas territories the relationship with Britain has modernised and the Islands have developed economically and governmentally apart from defence. A military base resides there as a result of the invasion in 1982 by Argentina but its presence has remained there at the desire of the Falkland Islands government and not the UK government. It should be of no concern to local foreign countries as it has reduced in size over the past 30 years to the "minimum necessary force" to defend the islands.

They even have full control over their immigration where a UK citizen is treated the same as a Russian if they wish to live and work there. Oil and other natural resources to be found belong to the Falklands and the revenue will go to the Falkland Island Government, not the UK government.

The islanders operate a £13 million fishing industry landing over 200,000 tonnes of fish, as well as a hospitality industry worth £7.8 million annually. They also gain up to 55,000 tourist visitors each year which has also overall created a very successful tourist industry. The Falklands is a favourite destination for wildlife fans as thousands of penguins, over 65% of the world’s black-browed albatross population, plus sea lions, elephant seals, dolphins, killer whales and much more.

There is very little chance of crime, many people even leave the keys in the ignition of their cars and some houses don’t even have locks on the doors.

Their language is different. It’s English but with more of a different accent/dialect, than spoken in a lot of the UK. Notable Falkland Islands terms are "kelper" meaning a Falkland Islander (from the kelp surrounding the islands), "smoko" for a smoking break (as in Australia and New Zealand) and even the word "yomp" which was used by the British armed forces during the Falklands War.

The Islanders have their own style of architecture. Falkland houses are renowned for being brightly painted with immaculately maintained gardens, the style of cladding and colours vary immensely. Older houses frequently have intricately carved wooden fascia boards.

Specific issues of banknotes have been made for the Falkland Islands since 1899. Coins have been minted specifically for the Falklands since 1974. Animals indigenous to the Falklands are printed on their currency like the Gentoo Penguin, South American Sea Lion, Warrah, and the Upland Goose.

Strongly favoured cuisines can be found; the Islanders’ commonly have chicken and pork products from Chile, Uruguayan beef, seafood salads with local herbs and the sea trout etc. The Smoko is well known in all Falkland Islands and it basically consists in a snack of tea or coffee and homemade cakes. Lamb is extremely popular in the UK but mutton is eaten less than it used to be, however the Islanders especially enjoy cuisines that involve mutton as it was and still is readily available in the Falkland Islands and cheap. They actually eat much more red meat than a person in the UK would.

Community and Race relations
They have a sizeable Chilean community and they are having an effect on their culture with cumbias and they like being heard in the Islands' pubs. Inter-ethnic marriages are happening and children being born from these. There are children now who are mixed Chilean, St Helenian and Filipino blood, and many more. They are a very diverse, but unique, society.

Indigenous Heritage
Although the archaeological record shows that indigenous Americans visited the Islands, there was never an established indigenous population but the islanders have still managed to inherit native blood. Many Chileans, Peruvians and even Argentines have immigrated there over the past hundred years and because of interracial marriages with South Americans children have been born with indigenous ancestry. The Peruvians in particular are genetically closer to the indigenous population and some individuals have Mapuche, Kolla grandparents etc.

History and Modern day
The Islanders’ ancestors emigrated from Britain as Argentina's did from Spain, but like Argentina they have today grown into their own self-governing community and have lived there peacefully for more than 170 years. The fact that many families there have traced their routes in the Falklands back to a time before Argentina existed in the form that it does today, makes the Falklanders as much a people as those who call themselves Argentine. They have even been settled there since before parts of Argentina were settled; Patagonia, for instance, was not properly settled by Argentina until the genocidal Conquest of the Desert in the 1870s. The only difference between the Falkland Islanders and the Argentinians is that the former did not slaughter an established indigenous population to gain their new country, the latter did.

The latest Falkland Islands Government census in 2012 indicates a resident population of 2,841 of whom 59% consider themselves to be ‘Falkland Islander’, 29% British, 9.8% St Helenian and 5.4% Chilean. The majority of the Islanders consider themselves to have become their own identify so they should ultimately have the same rights as any other non-indigenous people of the New World.

Final Conclusion...
By all reasonable standards the Falkland Islanders ARE a people and therefore have the right to self-determination as enshrined in Article 1.2 of the Charter of the United Nations.